- The Washington Times - Monday, April 17, 2006

WILMINGTON, Del. — Through the haze of 13 long, restless years, Carl Dodd still could discern something familiar in the face of the young woman he met yesterday.

“I said to myself, ‘That’s daddy’s little girl, still,’” he recounted.

But the little girl he last saw when she was a 4-year-old preschooler is now a confused, distrustful 17-year-old, unwilling to accept, at least for now, that she has a father who loves her and wants to take her home.

“I think there’s still a lot of hurt in her heart,” Mr. Dodd, 40, said after being reunited with Marilyn Byrd, spirited away from him in 1993 by her mother in a nasty custody dispute that evolved into one of the nation’s longest missing-child cases. “We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

On Wednesday, Marilyn’s 17th birthday, U.S. marshals tracked her down at a house near downtown Wilmington, where she had been living with her mother and grandmother. Authorities found Marilyn with the help of computerized age-progression images provided by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which notified the Marshals Service late last year of several open cases in the region, including Marilyn’s.

Mr. Dodd, who said his daughter may have been living in Delaware for a couple of years, arrived in Wilmington hoping to take her back to Fort Washington, where he lives with his wife, Paula.

But after meeting with the teenager and a social worker for more than an hour yesterday, the best he hopes for now is to open a line of communication with his long-lost daughter, who, for the time being, will remain in Wilmington with her grandmother.

“This was a happy moment, but it was a letdown,” Mr. Dodd said.

Marilyn’s mother, Mary Jane Byrd, 35, appeared before a judge in the District last week on charges of parental abduction. She was ordered to a halfway house pending a May 3 preliminary hearing.

Mr. Dodd thinks one reason Marilyn was reluctant to go back to Maryland with him is that her mother had said that he had physically and sexually abused the child, an accusation he denies.

“I kept telling her, ‘Get to know your father first, and then make your judgment,’” a disappointed Mr. Dodd told a throng of reporters gathered at a Wilmington municipal building.

Mr. Dodd, who received full custody of Marilyn in a 1994 court order, said he plans to work on a long-distance relationship with his daughter “until we get our little problem solved.”

While waiting for the paperwork to be processed, Mr. Dodd mused about how the reunion with his daughter might go.

“Her mother done told her a lot of stories,” said Mr. Dodd, a track maintenance worker for the D.C. transit system. “My plan is to sit down and talk to her and let her know that a lot of things she heard aren’t true, and let her be the judge.”

Meanwhile, Marilyn and her grandmother, also named Mary Jane Byrd, were holed up at the latter’s house about 12 blocks away, the doors shut and the windows covered by blinds.

When police officers arrived to take the girl, the Byrds refused to answer the door. More than an hour later, with the help of a counselor and in the presence of U.S. marshals, the women were persuaded to come out. With their faces shielded by heavy coats draped over their heads, the two were ushered into waiting police vehicles.

At the municipal building, father and daughter were reunited in a small police administrative room.

“The first word I told her was that I love her and I miss her,” Mr. Dodd said. “I didn’t get the response I wanted. … When I first saw her, I just didn’t get the vibes.”

When he presented Marilyn with old family photographs, she glanced quickly at them and didn’t ask any questions.

Careful not to pry too much at such a tense moment, Mr. Dodd came away from the initial meeting not knowing very much about his daughter, who told him she felt safe and was being home-schooled.

“I don’t know what type of person she is,” said Mr. Dodd, who must wait at least a little longer for the hug that has eluded him for more than a decade.

“I think that’s going to take time,” he said.

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